Earlier this spring, I took a trip to Lincolnville with my 5-year-old daughter, Zoe, and our dear friends, Dani and Leo. Leo and I had met in 2010 when we were both AmeriCorps volunteers for the Maine Conservation Corps, and Dani and I had bonded over our fondness for knitting and baking. Over the years, we had all grown incredibly close, and the two of them were a big part of my support system in the years when my late husband was struggling with cancer.
Originally hailing from Berkeley, California, Dani and Leo had decided to make Maine their home, much to my delight. They had exchanged vows at Merryspring Nature Center in Camden the previous summer, and now, approximately eight months later, our schedules and the Maine weather had finally aligned, and I was making good on their wedding present. They had recently become homeowners, and I knew the perfect gift.
Wally and Diane O’Brien make their home and operate Sleepy Hollow Rag Rugs just up the road from Lincolnville Beach. When I was growing up in Castine, Wally was my 5th-8th grade math and science teacher and my 5th-6th grade homeroom teacher. Castine’s Adams School was small, to put it lightly. We had combined-grade classrooms, and the school had no cafeteria (we ate in our classrooms), library (the town library was only a few buildings away), or gym/athletic fields (we borrowed everything from the nearby Maine Maritime Academy.
Wally taught both my brother Joe and I, and fondly, if with a chuckle, recalls seeing us at the end of our driveway fighting mercilessly as we waited for the bus in the early morning hours. He was my favorite teacher, mostly because he told the most wonderful, colorful stories about his life and adventures (and we sometimes got to play nature trivia on Friday afternoons). Wally retired not too long after I graduated from the Adams School, and, not surprisingly, we lost touch.
When I graduated from college a few years down the road, I ordered graduation announcements. As I sat in my Midwestern college apartment, I sent one to Wally on a whim. I had no idea what his address was, but in the beautiful way that Maine works, I sent it to “Wally O’Brien, Lincolnville, ME, 04849,” and it got to him.
We started corresponding through letters, and eventually Joe and I made it over for lunch and to catch up. During our first visit, I was recently engaged, and Wally and Diane gifted me with one of their beautiful rag rugs that they make in the studio attached to their home. I have visited them many times over the last decade, and sometimes a year or two goes by between visits, but I cherish every time I make my way to their home.
Wally and Diane represent exactly what I aspire to be as I grow older. They are loving and sweet and funny and practical. They are exceedingly handy, well-educated and kind. They love a good laugh and a good beer and a homemade pie fresh from the oven. They make art and raise vegetables and thrive on being a little bit different. Though I don’t get a chance to visit them nearly enough, they are some of my most favorite people on earth.
During this most recent visit, they joyfully showed Dani and Leo around their property: the garlic poking from the ground, warnings about the hazards of planting horseradish, and where they used to keep the cow. Diane took Zoe’s hand, and they went to check for eggs in the chicken coop — their multitude of birds far more exciting than the four chickens back at our house.
Inside, they showed us their craft and work spaces, many wood stoves, and finally the loom where Wally now weaves the rag rugs after taking over that task from Diane some years back. Diane showed Zoe the intricate dollhouses she had constructed over the years, and Zoe squealed with delight every time their dog rushed to her for petting and attention and with equal levels of excitement.
In the studio, Dani and I admired Diane’s knitted handiwork and then Wally’s rugs. We all listened to Wally tell the remarkable tale of their acquisition of the 1800s loom, and Zoe chattered about the beautiful fabrics, which were all torn into strips from donated clothing, sheets, curtains, etc, before being rolled into balls that filled innumerable baskets around the room. After an introduction to the process and materials, Dani and Leo perused the rugs to make their selection. Wally invited Zoe onto the bench next to him and taught her how to operate the loom, letting her help move the beam with her small hands next to his.
By the time we departed, Dani and Leo had selected two rugs, our bellies were full of pie and ice cream, and our hearts were full with good old-fashioned friendship and affection. Zoe gave the dog a few extra pats, there were hugs all around, and we promised to return for another visit soon.
As we drove home through the afternoon sunlight, the trees just starting to think about leafing out, I thought to myself: This. This is exactly what the good life is all about.
Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a writer and brain injury advocate. She lives in Vassalboro with her daughter. You can find her work at www.sarahkilchgaffney.com.
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